Each year the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) compiles stats on how many people attempt and complete a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. They recently updated their numbers for 2017, which provides an opportunity to look at some overarching trends.
Per ATC’s estimates, the number of hikers attempting a northbound (Georgia to Maine) thru-hike has more than doubled in just the past seven years, from 1,460 hikers in 2010 to 3,735 in 2017—a whopping 155 percent increase.
For hikers attempting a southbound thru-hike (Maine to Georgia), the number has increased from 256 in 2010 to 489 in 2017, an increase of 91 percent.
That’s a striking rate of growth and a trend that looks likely to continue in the years ahead.
There has been a slow downward trend in the success rate of thru-hikers, as indicated by the number of reported completions. (It’s important to note that this stat relies on thru-hikers self-reporting to the ATC, which almost certainly fails to capture some successful thru-hikes.)
For the five years from 2011 to 2015, the reported completion rate was remarkably steady and hovered within a narrow two-point range of between 25 and 27 percent. So roughly one in four hikers who attempted a thru-hike successfully made it to the end and reported it.
In 2016, however, that reported success rate dropped to 20 percent. So even though more people attempted a thru-hike in 2016 (an estimated 3,377 people), about the same number reported completing it (685) as in 2014 (690) and 2015 (677), when far fewer hikers made the attempt (2,500 and 2,700 people, respectively).
What’s to account for this trend? It’s hard to say, though the folks at The Trek recently posted an excellent two-part series on the many reasons hikers fail to complete their journey:
Whatever the reasons, it will be interesting to see how 2017 plays and whether 2016 represented an anomaly in completion rates or the start of a new trend.